Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mourning the passing of an old friend

One of our oldest (5 years) freshwater fish passed away this Thursday. He was our favorite. Not only was he beautiful but he was a character.

He didn't have an official name but he has an amazing story. We affectionately called him Blue or "the blind guy". He was an electric blue African cichlid and one of the very first fish Diego and I bought together. The story starts when Diego and I moved in together in May 2003. I already had 3 fish tanks but we wanted one of our we started together (so cute!). So we started a "colony" of African cichlids in a 30 gal tank. He was the most beautiful and had a quiet rule over the others. Some males would arise and challenge his dominance but never did his rule falter. Fish came and went but he remained a dominant fixture of our colony. He fathered many young, which he and the other promptly ate when the mother spewed them from her protective hold in her mouth.

Then in September 2003, Hurricane Juan hit and devastated Halifax. We were without power for 9 days. Every day Diego and I would come home and warm up water on the BBQ to keep all our fish at a balmy 12 degrees C. This is definitely at the lower limit of most aquarium fishes thresholds, they are tropical and prefer something around 24 degrees C! We lost 25% of our fish. Luckily we did not have any marine tanks, they would not have survived! All of our older fish died, except the young ones in the colony, including Blue. The colony was moved up into a 75 gal and new mates were added.

Then one day we noticed that Blue had swollen eyes, was beat up and cowering in a corner. He had an eye infection called "pop" we moved him into a hospital tank and treated him. A day after his return to the colony, he was again beat up and cowering in a corner. After feeding the colony and watching Blue's attempts to eat we realized that he was BLIND!!! We immediately transferred him to a home with less aggressive friends, he moved in with our angelfish. Henceforth he was known as the blind guy to most (or Blue to us).

I had to hand feed him and eventually he learned to detect and catch pellets that floated on the surface. He also had to memorize his surroundings. For the first couple of weeks he ran into everything! Eventually, he knew where every piece of driftwood was and he could stop on a dime before running into the glass. He could even give chase to the angels and give them little love nips on the fins!

As if that wasn't enough, when we went away one Christmas our furnace stopped working and when our house sitter came back from a week at his folks the inside temperature was no more than 4 degrees C and he found an apartment full of dying fish...poor guy! We lost 70% of our freshwater fish that time and all of Blue's tank-mates perished. That was 2 years ago. He died peacefully on Thursday morning.

I watched him grow from a juvenile with no colours into a magnificent male. I saw him suffer through moments of cold, pain and confusion. He overcame it all and persevered. His strength and sheer will to live inspired me and others. Many of my friends to whom I tell his story never thought a fish could learn or had memory and most of them did not believe me until they met him... The complexity of fishes never ceases to amaze me. He will be missed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Warm Winter Glow

I am working from home today and this is what I saw on my kitchen table when I turned to get a cup of tea.
The afternoon sun shining on my bunch of yellow tulips. The yellow glow makes me feel warm and happy. So, I thought I would share a little warmth on this cold winter day in NS (-19C in Halifax).
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Weekend of Celebration!

After having had a busy week full of computer work, I decided to boycott my computer and celebrate other people's well as my meeting went well and I am set to move forward with my research!!!!

It was my friend Alessandra's 28th b-day on Friday. She threw herself a party and cooked amazing Italian food! We celebrated until the wee hours of the morning. : )

Saturday, we celebrated out friend Roberto (from Mexico) who just got his Canadian Citizenship! Way to Go Roberto!! So we had an afternoon celebration with his family of 4 and friends! Thank goodness they have little ones and we left relatively early (10:30 ish). We were pooped from our night of carousing on Friday! We came home a snuggled up to an episode of The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey (my x-mas gift to Diego!).

Sunday, the sun was out and we were well rested and decided to head out into the wilderness! We went to hike the Salt Marsh Trail in Cole Harbour, NS. It was sooo cold! It was amazing to see the ocean frozen over along the shoreline!

Although dressed for the weather, it was cold enough to chase us back to the car after an hour.

This week in my organic veg box I received an eggplant. I have never really cooked eggplant outside of ratatouille Alessandra invited me over to learn an Italian recipe that resembles a lasagna, except you use eggplant instead of noodles. It was delicious.

Here is what she taught me.

Wash two medium sized eggplants and slice into rounds. Spread them our on the cutting board and sprinkle with salt. This gets rid of any bitterness. Then to prepare the tomato sauce, get a medium sized sauce pan and fry a large chopped onion in a generous amount of olive oil. Take a large can of organic whole tomatoes and blend until smooth in the blender. Pour the tomatoes into the sauce pan with the onions once they are beginning to brown. Add three pinches of salt and two of baking soda. This removes the really acid taste of the tomatoes, it works better than adding some sugar. While the sauce is cooking, cut thin strips of soft mozzarellla cheese (we used 340g Silani brand mozza) and grate some parmesan (200g of fresh grated). Once the flavour of the baking soda has faded away the sauce is ready. First take a large glass baking dish (or any dish you use to make lasagna) and drizzle the bottom with olive oil. Add a layer of slightly overlapping eggplant to form a bed and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Laddle on some sauce, we used 2 laddle-fuls per layer, then divide your cheese into 3 portions. Each layer of cheese doe not have to cover all of the eggplant and sauce, the chees will melt throughout. Repeat until you have finished the three layers. You can more cheese to the top layer if you like a thick cap on top. We put the same amount in all layers and it covered it all just fine. Bake at 425F for 40 min or until the eggplant is soft. Serve with a salad and some lovely red wine!! Delicious!!

Hope you all had a great Monday! : >

Friday, January 23, 2009

Comforting Image(s)

This is the last day of Comfort week and I want to say THANKS to Sherrieg for organizing it! I have met so many wonderful people, got to learn about them and share my comforts, thoughts and feelings!

As the last installment of comfort week we have to select an image that brings us comfort and as with most things I cannot decide...

So here are two images I find very comforting:

This is a view of the surface of the ocean, taken while laying on the bottom. This was at one of my study sites along the coast of Nova Scotia in 2007. It reminds me of the peace and serenity I feel while I am under the surface.

The other is delicious Mexican Tacos!!!

These are called rajas con crema or sliced poblano chilis and onions, fried until tender then doused in cream...on a handmade corn tortilla! mmmmm...I can just imagine the comfort of a full belly and the flavour explosion of real Mexican food. : )

I am running off to a party! Have a good Friday evening!!! : )

Full Bloom!

I absolute LOVE flowers. I love the way they look and most of all their smell. In the spring time I always drag Diego by the hand around the city so I can oooh and aaaah over all the wonderful smells! At this time of year with all the grey and white, flowers are especially vibrant and always make my day bright. Although it doesn't smell, my Christmas cactus is in full bloom and it is glorious!
I am glad I didn't miss while in Mexico. I have a committee meeting today. These are the folks that assess the quality of my work for my PhD thesis. Today I am updating them on my progress and proposed direction...I hope they like it! Coffee is ready! Gotta run and finish off my presentation. Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My two most comforting habits!

Today as part of comfort week we are supposed to share a habit or behaviour that gives us comfort. I have two that I want to share.

Whenever Diego and I walk somewhere together we always hold hands (awwww!). I love holding his hand and I always reach for it when we step off the stoop in the morning to walk to work, or the moment we are shoulder to shoulder strolling down the halls of the University. I always hold his hand in a movie theater or if we are standing/sitting next to each other at a party. I always reach out for it and only realize it after I have his hand firmly in my grasp. I love the warmth of his hands and feeling his fingers our fingers entwined. It is reassuring, warm, calming and comfortable. Sometimes I can feel his pulse in his fingers, so close and so intimate.

The other of course has to do with water...who would have thought! I find my daily swim very comforting. I try to go in the middle of the day when my brain needs a rest. Sitting in front of a computer all day is really hard on the body and mind! It all begins with sliding on my dolphin print swimsuit. I reach the side of the pool and the anticipation of the shock of the cold water makes me a little hesitant but I dive in knowing that it is my refuge, my sanctuary. As I glide through the water in a world of silence I am only aware of the rhythm of my breathing and the beating of my heart. I focus on making myself as streamlined as possible to move through the water with the least resistance. I feel the stress slide off my body and imagine it swirling in the wake behind me. I immerse myself completely into this liquid medium and concentrate on feeling every stroke, the movement of my muscles, willing them to work and relax all at once. I feel free and I feel good. I can now go back and face my computer once again with a fresh mind and body.

If you want to check out other comforting habits click here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My most comforting place.

I would have to agree with Vicky, the Ocean is definitely the most comforting place for me. I wouldn't be a marine biologist if it wasn't the Ocean! My partner Diego is also in oceanography so we share our fascination with the Ocean. We both love to go beachcombing, having BBQs on the beach, watching sunsets/sunrises and camping.

Those are our blue tents behind the bush...camping with Diego's sister and her husband on a deserted beach in Mexico.

Just us and the egret enjoying the sunset on our deserted beach in Mexico.

However, the best part for both of us is actually being in the Ocean!

Here we are snorkeling in Mexico this past Christmas!

It is such a different world under the surface, the ambient colour and temperature is different depending where you are and the time of year but most important, it is completely different from the conditions above the water!

Here I am on the left in Mexico, look at the brilliant blue of the water and note that my head is not covered! I am also wearing a 4 mm wetsuit (which means it lets a small amount of water between the skin and your suit that you warm up and it stays there).The centre photo was taken while working in Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2007. Here the water is really murky and kinda brown! Here my suit is a 7 mm drysuit (which means no water goes into the suit) and I am wearing merino wool pants and long sleeve top underneath. However, it was warm enough to go gloveless! The last photo was taken in Nova Scotia during my Masters in May 2005. The water is a blueish-green but very cold...maybe 4 degrees Celsius. I am again wearing my drysuit, but this time I am definitely wearing gloves and at least 3 layers of wool and fleece underneath!

I love the feeling that you are floating and can no longer feel the strong pull of gravity.

Sometimes the water can be so clear it feels like you are in a zero gravity world! But of course here in Nova Scotia clear water usually means really cold water!!!

The variety of life is astonishing! In the tropics, the waters are dominated by sand with islands of corals and sponges. These are likened to oases in a desert and are where much of the life aggregates.
A mixed schoal of fish, surrounding a mostly dead coral head.

A moray eel living in a hole in a coral and sponge reef.

But in more northern latitudes you get a predominance of large seaweeds that form huge beds full of life!
Beautiful frilly kelp plants on a boulder with a ground cover of a large branched green algae called Codium and a mixed yellowy turf in Nova Scotia.

A close up of the turf and our favorit friend the American Lobster!

Not to mention the sounds...or lack thereof in Nova Scotian waters (except for thos pesky power boats) and the loud crackling of the coral reef in the Caribbean.

To me the underwater world is my place of comfort! I always dreamed of being a mermaid or dolphin as a kid. I guess a Marine Biologist is the next best thing!!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Most Comforting thing(s) in my home

By far the most comforting things in my home are our 4 fish tanks. In the kitchen we have a 120 gallon Reef Tank. It is 6' x 2' x 2' and fills one corner of our kitchen. The computer seen in the photo is where I am sitting as I write!

Here are some of the inhabitants. A pink skunk clownfish guarding it's pink bubble-tip anemone and an assortment of corals in the fore- and back-ground. 99% of everything you see in our marine tanks was either tank raised, homemade (rock) or purchased from someone who was closing down their tank.

We also have a 50 gallon marine tank in our bedroom. Which is so relaxing to look at before bed. The lights go out around 10 pm but we have blue lights to imitate moonlight that turn on at night and make everything glow!!!

In the living room we have 2x50 gallon freshwater tanks. One is planted with angelfish,
and the other is filled with driftwood and is home to our oscar, kukulkan,

and his large pleco friend.

Freshwater fish and plants are all bred and raised in captivity. To learn more about the freshwater fish, click on the links!

Happy Tuesday!!

Comfort Food, better late than never!

Like most people, I too love soup at this time of year. For me one of the most comforting things about food is making it and one of my favorite foods to make (and eat...soooo yummy!) is kale and pancetta quiche.

Quiche filling:
4 oz (125 g) pancetta or bacon, diced
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups (1.5 L) chopped kale
1/4 cup (50 mL) water
4 eggs
3/4 cup (175 mL) milk
1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste (usually a pinch of each)
1 tbsp (15 mL) dijon mustard
3/4 cup (175 mL) shredded swiss or emmental cheese

Sour Cream Pastry:

1-1/4 cups (300 mL) all-purpose flour - I use Spearville Mill's Unbleached Whole White flour
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1/4 cup (50 mL) cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup (50 mL) cold lard (you could sub in shortening)
2 tbsp (25 mL) cold water
4 tsp (20 mL) sour cream


Sour Cream Pastry: In bowl, whisk flour with salt. Using pastry blender, cut in butter and lard until in fine crumbs with a few larger pieces. Whisk water with sour cream; drizzle over dry ingredients, stirring briskly with fork to form ragged dough. Press into disc. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. You can refrigerate the dough for 24 hr.

On lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to generous 1/8-inch (3 mm) thickness. Fit into 9-inch (23 cm) glass pie plate. Trim to 3/4-inch (2 cm) overhang; fold overhang under and flute edge. Prick all over with fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Line shell with foil; fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in bottom third of 400°F (200°C) oven for about 15 minutes or until rim is light golden. Remove weights and foil; bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until pastry is golden. Let cool on rack. I usually make this the night before and keep it in the fridge so it makes putting together the quiche much faster.

In skillet, fry pancetta over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.

Here you have two choices, you can drain off the fat from the pancetta and add the olive oil, or keep the fat and ditch the oil (I use option 2); fry onion and garlic over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes.

Add kale and water; cover and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Uncover and fry for 1 minute. In bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, salt and pepper. You can refrigerate pancetta and egg mixtures separately for up to 24 hours.

Brush pastry shell with mustard; sprinkle with 1/2 cup (125 mL) of the cheese and the pancetta mixture. Pour in egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven for about 35 minutes or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean.

Recipe from: Canadian Living Magazine

Comfort Week!

This week I am participating in a theme week that Sherrieg is hosting. It is called comfort week and here are all the participants and their contributions.

Here are the themes for each day, take directly from Sherrieg's site:

Monday: food: your favourite comfort food (with recipes, if possible!)
Tuesday: home: the most comfortable (or comforting) thing in your home
Wednesday: place : the place most comfortable to you
Thursday: habit: a behaviour or routine that brings you comfort
Friday: image: a picture that represents total comfort to you; either an image of your own or a link to one you love

So, since today is Tuesday and I arrived too late last night to get around to posting for Monday...I will do a double post...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Home Again and Work Mountain!

Well we made it home in the wee hours of Monday morning after 13 hours of traveling. Exhausted but happy to be home. We also arrived to a huge pile of snow! Lucky for us it happened during the day Monday so no need to shovel! Thank goodness because coming from weather that is on average 25 degrees to the freezing cold we have been having this week (-30 with the wind chill!!!) has not been kind to us. Luckily, we have avoided getting sick...knock on wood! Both Diego and I arrived to a mountain of work and have been really busy trying to climb that mountain...I am far from the peak but wanted to share some of the lovely things I brought back from Mexico for my kitchen!!!

Just before leaving I bought a set of cazuelas (kas-wela), an olla (o-ya) and 4 mugs to go with the olla. Cazuelas are clay cookware (orginally from Spain) that are used on the stove top (with or without the lid) or in the oven. The one pictured above with my cute tiny but VERY spicy chile plant is the smallest of the set of 5. Some of the typical things cooked in the casuelas are frijoles (beans), Mexican rice and mole but you can cook anything you can imagine in them!

The olla is a clay pot typically used for cafe de olla (Mexican spiced coffee) or Chocolate Mexicano (Mexican hot chocolate). I absolutely LOVE cafe de olla...this is what we had this morning! The coffee is made with piloncillo, which is essentially a block of unrefined cane sugar, and canela, which is cinammon but the kind used is different than the one we find in Canada. We did not bring back any piloncillo or canela, so we made due with brown sugar and cinammon sticks. I followed this recipe but used the olla instead of a sauce pan. I have yet to make the chocolate Mexicano, but will let you know how it turns out when I do!!

To make the pots, especially the unglazed parts, stronger you need to cure them. It is an interesting process that has been used since the middle ages. You need to soak the dish in water for at least 12 hours. Then you wipe them dry and rub the unglazed parts with a cut garlic clove! Then you fill the pot with water and 1/2 cup of vinegar and let it boil off until there is only 1/2 cup left. Let it cool completely, then wash it and it is ready to use. Supposedly, it seasons the pot, kills bacteria, and hardens the unglazed parts. I did this for all my new pots. However, if you are to cook strong fish or meat in them there is an extra process to prevent the clay from absorbing the flavours. Since, I am not a fan of fish and stong meat (eg: lamb or sheep) I skipped this step but could always do it in the future if my tastes change.

Here are the mugs...not need to cure these, they are completely glazed. I have two of each design. I also picked up these lovely napkins in Campeche to add to my growing collection! I think I have at least 15 now. I would really like to have a nice stack so I no longer have to use paper napkins!

Unfortunately, Diego's grandmother recently passed away but as part of our inheritance we received a molcajete and tejolote. It is the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle (respectively) made of basalt stone. It is a pre-Hispanic tool that was used by the Aztecs and Mayans. It can be used to grind spices, make salsas and guacamole. Salsas and guacamole prepared in molcajetes have a distinctive texture and a subtle difference in flavor from those prepared in blenders. Pictured above is my very first molcajete salsa! I used fresh tomato, a fresh chile from my plant, fresh local garlic, one leaf of my large leaf oregano plant and some salt and pepper. It was very tasty but the peel was hard to grind so the salsa had largish chunks. Next time I will roast and peel the tomato first to give it a richer flavour and make it easier to grind up.

My code to process my data has just finished running...with an error : (
Gotta run and troubleshoot!

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Akumal y la Rosca de los Reyes

After New Year's we decided to spend my parent's last days in Mexico on the beach so we rented a condo in Akumal, the place of the turtles. It is a beautiful place with small buildings with condos and huge houses, all for rent, much quieter than the Zona Hotelera in Cancun or even Diego's parent's house in Cancun town.

We were right on the beach on not far was the barrier reef. The snorkeling was enjoyable but not as good as Xcalak. It was a pretty eco-friendly place. It actually had recycling and they were using a wetland lagoon for sewage treatment rather than having a hug treatment plant. The beach was guarded during turtle nesting season and all the lights were red so they don't affect the new born turtles. Newborns follow the moon to the ocean so if you have lots of lights around they will move towards the light and they may never reach the ocean! It is too bad that it was not nesting season when we were there, I would have loved to see one coming out of the ocean to lay eggs or see the little ones dig themselves out and drag themselves to the sea. Diego and I spent most of our time in the water and of course eating delicious food! We stayed 4 days, returned yesterday for my parents to pack and to go to the traditional party for the Rosca de Reyes at Diego's cousin Diana's House.

January 6th is when the 3 Kings arrived to give baby Jesus his gifts. In Mexico they celebrate this by leaving their shoe out the night before so that the Kings bring them a small present. The in the evening the prepare hot chocolate from REAL chocolate and milk...none of this powder crap we get in Canada...and a bread call Rosca de Reyes. The bread is like a coffee cake and has dried fruits on top (looks like licorice in the photo) and sections with a creamy sugar coating (white sections). Inside the bread they hide a bunch of small plastic babies that represent Jesus. The first person to get a baby has to have a party at their house on Feb 2...the day they all tear down their nativities...and evey person after that that gets a baby has to bring some traditional food like tamales to the party. Of course Diego and I both got a baby so we will have to send our supplies via mail...or maybe the Kings will be generous and give us a plane ticket so we can attend the party (wishful thinking!).

Now we have 4 more days to relax and enjoy the heat before we head back to the Canadian cold!
Have a good week!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!!!

We have been having a great time! We arrived on the 30th from a trip to Celestun, this tiny town in the Yucatan State known for it's huge aggregations of flamingos! We went on a boat tour to see them, the guide said there was about 10 thousand! It was quite impressive...they sound like geese and look so clumsy with their long necks and legs!

We spent the day the 31st...actually Marina spent the day cooking...she wouldn't let us help...for the New Year's eve party that we had with Diego's family. One of he traditions here is to eat 1 grape for each of the last 12 seconds of the year. Each grape represents a month in the New Year and with each one that you eat you make a wish for each month. Then we all cheer to the New Year and those who want to travel in the New Year walk around the block with a suitcase...then we ate a huge meal!! What a night...we had a great time! There were fireworks and music at many of the houses until 5 am!!!

I hope you all had a great time ringing in the New Year! Warmest wishes and all the best to all in 2009!